Novak Djokovic will need every last drop of energy if he goes on to meet Rafa Nadal at the French Open so the Serb was happy to avoid overtime against Jarkko Nieminen on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old world number one, seeking to complete a career grand slam by claiming a first title at Roland Garros having twice fallen to nine-times Spanish champion Nadal in the final, cut it fine against Nieminen though. Having won the first set with ease, Djokovic’s attempt to see out the match at low revs nearly backfired when he came within a point of going 5-1 down in the second against the experienced Finn.
Nieminen served at 5-3 and was ahead 30-0 before Djokovic turned on the afterburners, winning four straight points and going on to win 6-2 7-5 6-2 – his 23rd consecutive tour victory. The 30-30 point of that game summed up what the Serb is all about, with Nieminen throwing the kitchen sink at a baseline rally only to find all his best shots coming back.
Djokovic, seeking to become the first player since Jim Courier 23 years ago to land the opening two grand slams of the year, acknowledged he had been in a fight. “He was the better player for most of the second set,” the world number one told reporters. “Then I managed to come back and play some good shots, stayed patient, stayed calm. Overall it was a very solid performance,” he added.
Also Read: David Ferrer eases into second round of French Open
Djokovic is scheduled to meet Nadal in the last eight but with less kilometres in the legs, that could suit him more than facing the claycourt king in a final after a two-week slog. “I think the conditions of play suit him very much in this tournament and over the years,” Djokovic said of the unique challenge of facing the Mallorcan.
“He loves playing on clay especially here in Paris. Best of five, as well, something that is playing in his favour because there are not many players who can compete physically with him. You spend a lot of energy to win one set and you have to win three,” he added.
With even his bright ochre shirt matching the Paris clay though, Djokovic looked more than comfortable walking out on Court Philippe Chatrier as the favourite for the title.
When he completed victory over the 87th-ranked Finn he went about winning the hearts and minds of the crowd, conducting his on-court interview in French.